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Belarus: Relentless crackdown one year on from disputed presidential elections

Monday 9 August 2021 - 1:04pm

Belarus: Relentless crackdown one year on from disputed presidential elections (CC: Own Work)

One year since the disputed presidential elections that saw Alexander Lukashenko return to a sixth term in office, the Belarusian authorities are relentlessly pursuing their brazen attack on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, PEN International said today. The organisation urges an end to the crackdown on independent voices.

The Belarusian authorities have responded to the mass and largely peaceful protests that have swept Belarus since 9 August 2020 with brutality and repression. Over 35,000 people have been arbitrarily arrested, many receiving administrative detention orders imprisoning them for up to two weeks. At least four protesters and one unjustly imprisoned opposition activist have died. Torture and other ill-treatment remain rife. Independent media and civil society have been targeted, with scores of journalists and activities arbitrarily detained, beaten, sentenced to prison or hefty fines. Around 100 human rights and civil society organisations have reportedly been shut down, with over 50 independent organisations under ‘liquidation procedure’, including the Belarusian PEN Centre. Meanwhile, over 700 writers and artists have been persecuted since August 2020, with over 360 detained and many suffering beatings and torture.

‘The Belarusian authorities have made their intention very clear – they want to purge Belarus from dissenting voices. Their blatant disregard for their obligations under international law knows no limit – not international norms, not even the sky, is the limit, as we noticed when the authorities literally hijacked an aircraft to arrest a dissident blogger, and more recently, the bizarre stunt when Belarusian Olympic officials acted unusually in dealing with an athlete who had legitimate concerns about her participation in the recently-concluded Tokyo Olympics, leading her to seek support from Japan and Poland and is now safe’, said Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

‘Today, as we mark the one-year anniversary of last year’s widely disputed presidential elections, we stand once again by the brave people of Belarus who continue to fight for human rights, and urgently call for an end to the crackdown. All those held for peacefully expressing their views must immediately and unconditionally be released. We further call on the international community to provide long-term support to Belarusian journalists, media workers and cultural actors, and to ensure that all perpetrators of human rights violations are brought to account’, added Salil Tripathi.

For more information about the situation for free expression in Belarus and PEN’s work in the country click here. Stand in solidarity with the Belarusian PEN Centre. Sign PEN America’s petition.

For further details contact Aurélia Dondo at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 email: